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Northam: Virginia is faring better than some, but mask wearing must grow

SoVaNow.com / July 15, 2020


At a briefing Tuesday in Richmond, Gov. Ralph Northam highlighted the trajectory of the coronavirus in Virginia, executive actions taken, requirements, recommendations and guidelines.

Takeaways from the press conference include the following:

• Virginia’s overall coronavirus numbers are doing relatively well, but the Hampton Roads region is showing troubling signs and experiencing a spike.

• Statewide case numbers and testing are increasing modestly.

• Statewide percent positivity is inching up to 6.8 from 5.9, still well below the 10 percent benchmark. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is hiring additional contact tracers and is conducting about 10,000 tests per day rolling average.

Numbers by region:

In Northern Virginia, the most populous region, cases are down dramatically, with a 6.8 percent positivity rate.

» Southwest Virginia is seeing a small uptick; 4.8 percent positivity.

» Northwest Virginia is holding steady at 5.9 percent.

» Central Virginia has a small increase, 6.6 percent.

» The Eastern region (Hampton Roads/Tidewater) saw a large increase from 60 to 346 rolling average cases. Percent positivity is 10.1 and rising. There is substantial community spread driven by socializing without wearing masks, especially among young people. There was a 250 percent increase in cases among the 20-29 age group since June.

• Virginia is not experiencing spikes like Florida or Texas, but interstate travel could threaten our numbers.

• The governor announced several actions being taken to mitigate the spikes in Hampton Roads: Local health departments in Hampton Roads are developing recommendations.

» The state will begin stronger enforcement of existing regulations because of non-compliance. The health commissioner is sending a letter to health district leaders reminding them of their authority to enforce physical distancing and other measures.

» Local health departments, ABC, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and other licensing agencies will conduct unannounced visits to business establishments as needed. VDH is deploying 100 inspectors to ramp up enforcement around the state but will focus on Hampton Roads. Business licenses will be on the line for non-compliance.

» ABC has been directed to impose an earlier cutoff for alcohol sales at restaurants; details TBD.

» The governor has asked leaders of beach localities for updates.

• The governor reminded business owners that they can decline business to customers for not complying with the mask order, similar to the common “No shirt, no shoes, no service” practice. Business owners don’t have to serve a non-compliant patron and can call the police for trespassing if they refuse to leave.

• The governor will consider other actions if necessary, such as a reduction in size of allowed gatherings. He stated that people flouting rules are being selfish and not helping beat the virus. It takes everyone’s help to move forward safely.

• The administration is working with legislators on a General Assembly special session this summer; date to be determined.

PPE

• The state continues to receive and distribute PPE shipments around the state to key stakeholders, organizations and people in need. 49 shipments distributed since yesterday.

• Hospitals are not reporting unmet PPE needs.

• While the private market is not always predictable, the PPE supply is stable.

• The Virginia National Guard has been a critical partner in assisting with testing and PPE. Title 32 status approved by federal government to help pay for assistance will end soon; the Administration has asked for a status extension through 2020.

BACK TO SCHOOL

• Safety is the first priority in returning to school.

• The Virginia Department of Education has set out guidelines, and local School Boards will make final decisions, including the number of days per week for in-person instruction.

• Physical distancing will be a critical component and depend on local conditions.

• The State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) is reviewing opening plans from public colleges and universities.

• Local schools should be aware of local health data and act accordingly. The ability to track and isolate cases will continue to be important.

RENT AND MORTGAGE RELIEF

• $50 million in CARES Act funding for the relief program was distributed to state agencies last month. The program has been running for nine busines days and served 900 households so far. o 310 cases processed, 591 approved and additional awaiting required documentation.

• The 211 Virginia program has fielded 1300 calls for rent/mortgage help. The highest need is for rent relief since there are existing mortgage protections.

• The goal is to keep people in their homes, which also helps landlords and lenders.

UNEMPLOYMENT

• 938,559 Virginians have applied for unemployment; 91 percent are paid within 14 days.

• The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) has increased staff by 550 percent and are fielding approximately 60,000 calls per week. Third-party call centers have been hired. About 20 percent of applicants are ineligible and going through appeals process.

• Many Virginians are returning to work, but unemployment remains an issue.

• VEC is hosting a virtual hiring event on July 28.

• New labor standards are being finalized. Virginia is the first state to develop such standards.

DMV

• DMV locations have been slowly reopening with safety measures in place. 41 locations are open for in-person business by appointment only with extended hours.

• DMV has allowed a 90-day extension for many expirations.

• The governor encouraged Virginias to do DMV transactions online if possible.

VDH UPDATES

• Visit VDH website for full, up to date numbers: http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/

• VDH employs 500 inspectors and is hiring 100 more.

• While symptoms and death rate are less in young people, many still experience severe effects and long-term morbidity. Infected people pose a risk to their relatives and others in the community.

• Bilingual contact tracers are being hired, especially Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese language speakers.

• Virtual contact centers are being established as backups for contact tracers.

NURSING HOMES AND PUBLIC HEALTH INFORMATION

• Over 204 nursing home facilities have been tested, with others are scheduled or in the process of scheduling. The state expects all nursing homes to be tested within 10 days.

• State issued guidelines for nursing homes include weekly testing of employees, and the Administration is proposing funding to help the facilities meet that charge.

• A legislative change will likely be needed to clarify the current law regarding VDH release of information for various settings and establishments. The Health Commissioner stated that release is determined by public health needs and ongoing investigations, and that information from non-congregate settings often does not advance public health.

WORKPLACE SAFETY AND ENFORCEMENT

• Workplace standards being developed by state agencies will include required CDC standards. The work group charged with developing the standards is meeting tomorrow to finalize.

• Businesses can be cited for not following requirements. Violations are currently a misdemeanor and may be a civil penalty in the future.

• The main issue is individual compliance, especially in bars, restaurants, and large social gatherings.

POSSIBLE FUTURE ACTION AND PHASES

• The administration will focus on hot spots rather than blanket action across the entire state and would consider regional phase rollbacks to mitigate local spikes.

• The administration is monitoring key metrics and neighboring jurisdictions to determine next steps and adjustments.

• No plans for Phase 4 at this time.

OTHER TOPICS

• Federal CARES Act funding must be used specifically for direct impact on COVID-19. Childcare has been a priority.

• The governor stressed the need for universal broadband in Virginia, especially for telehealth services and education/virtual learning.

• The governor stated that we cannot let down our guard or act as if the virus has gone away. It hasn’t, and we must continue to do the things that work. If we want to return to some sense of normalcy, we all need to do the right thing and take responsibility.



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